Fare Payment Without the Stasi
Last year, I saw a tip by the Metropolitan Police: if you witness any crime on a London bus and wish to report it later, you should tell the police the number on your Oyster card and then they’ll already be able to use the number to track which bus you rode and then get the names and bank accounts of all other passengers on that bus. Londoners seem to accept this surveillance as a fact of life; closed-circuit TV cameras are everywhere, even in front of the house where Orwell lived and wrote. Across the Pond, transit agencies salivate over the ability to track passenger movements through smartcards and contactless credit cards, which is framed either as the need for data or as a nebulous anti-crime measure. Fortunately, free countries have some alternative models.
In Germany, the population is more concerned about privacy. Despite being targeted by a string of communist terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 80s, it maintained an open system, without any faregates at any train station (including subways); fare enforcement in German cities relies on proof of payment with roving inspectors. Ultimately, this indicates the first step in a transit fare payment system that ensures people pay their fares without turning the payment cards into tracking devices. While Germany resists contactless payment, there are ways to achieve its positive features even with the use of more modern technology than paper tickets.
The desired features
A transit fare payment system should have all of the following features:
- Integration: free transfers between different transit vehicles and different modes should be built into the system, including buses, urban rail, and regional rail.
- Scalability: the system should scale to large metro areas with variable fares, and not just to compact cities with flat fares, which are easier to implement. It should also permit peak surcharges if the transit agency wishes to implement them.
- No vendor lock: switching to a different equipment manufacturer should be easy, without locking to favored contractors.
- Security: it should be difficult to forge a ticket.
- Privacy: it should not be possible to use the tickets to track passengers in most circumstances.
- Hospitality: visitors and occasional riders should be able to use the system with ease, with flexible options for stored value (including easy top-up options) and daily, weekly, and monthly passes, and no excessive surcharges.
Smartcard and magnetic card systems are very easy to integrate across operators; all that it takes is political will, or else there may be integrated fare media without integrated fares themselves, as in the Bay Area (Clipper can store value but there are no free transfers between agencies). Scalability is easy on the level of software; the hardest part about it is that if there are faregates then every station must have entry and exit gates, and those may be hard to retrofit. Existing smartcard technologies vary in vendor lock, but the system the US and Britain are standardizing on, contactless credit cards, is open. The real problem is in protecting privacy, which is simply not a goal in tracking-obsessed Anglo-American agencies.
The need for hospitality
Hospitality may seem like a trivial concern, but it is important in places with many visitors, which large transit cities are. Moreover, universal design for hospitality, such as easily recognizable locations for topping up stored value, is also of use to regular riders who run out of money and need to top up. Making it easy to buy tickets without a local bank account is of use to both visitors and low-income locals without full-service bank accounts. In the US, 7% of households are unbanked and another 20% are underbanked; I have no statistics for other countries, but in Sweden banks will not even give debit cards to people with outstanding debts, which suggests to me that some low-income Swedes may not have active banking cards.
New York’s MetroCard has many faults, but it succeeds on hospitality better than any other farecard system I know of: it is easy to get the cards from machines, there is only a $1 surcharge per card, and season tickets are for 7 or 30 days from activation rather than a calendar week or month. At the other end of the hospitality scale, Navigo requires users to bring a passport photo and can only load weekly and monthly passes (both on the calendar); flexible 5-day passes cost more than a calendar weekly pass.
In fact, the main reason not to use paper tickets is that hospitality is difficult with monthly passes printed on paper. Before the Compass Card debacle, Vancouver had paper tickets with calendar monthly passes, each in a different color to make it easy for the driver to see if a passenger was flashing a current or expired pass. The tickets could be purchased at pharmacies and convenience stores but not at SkyTrain stations, which only sold single-ride tickets.
ID cards and privacy
The Anglosphere resists ID cards. The Blair cabinet’s attempt to introduce national ID cards was a flop, and the Britons I was reading at the time (such as the Yorkshire Ranter) were livid. And yet, ID cards provide security and privacy. Passports are extremely difficult to forge. Israel’s internal ID cards are quite difficult to forge as well; there are occasional concerns about voter fraud, but nothing like the routine use of fake drivers’ licenses to buy drinks so common in American college culture.
At the same time, in countries that are not ruled by people who think 1984 was an uplifting look at the future, ID cards protect privacy. The Yorkshire Ranter is talking about the evils of biometric databases, and Israeli civil liberties advocates have mounted the same attack against the government’s attempt at a database. But German passports, while biometric, store data exclusively on the passport, not in any centralized database. ID cards designed around proving that you paid your fare don’t even have to use biometrics; the security level is lower than with biometrics, but the failure mode is that the occasional forger can ride without paying $100 a month (which is much less than the cost of the forgery), not that a ring of terrorists can enter the country.
Navigo’s ID cards are not hospitable, but allowing passengers to ride with any valid state-issued ID would be. Visitors either came in from another country and therefore have passports, drove in and therefore have drivers’ licenses, or flew in domestically and therefore still have ID cards. Traveling between cities without ID is still possible here and in other free European countries, but everyone has national ID cards anyway; the ID problem is mainly in the US with its low passport penetration (and secondarily Canada and Australia), and the US has no intercity public transit network to speak of outside the Northeast Corridor.
What this means is that the best way to prevent duplication of transit passes is to require ID cards. Any ID card must be acceptable, including a passport (best option), a national ID card (second best), or an American driver’s license (worst).
Getting rid of the faregates
There are approximately three first-world Western cities that have any business having faregates on their urban rail networks: London, Paris, New York. Even there, I am skeptical that the faregates are truly necessary. The Metro’s crowd control during the World Cup victory celebration was not great. New York’s faregates sometimes cause backups to the point that passengers just push the emergency doors open to exit, and then rely on an informal honor system so that passengers don’t use the open emergency doors to sneak in without payment.
Evidently, the Munich S-Bahn funnels all traffic through a single two-track city center tunnel and has 840,000 weekday users, without faregates. Only one or two trunk lines are busier in Paris, the RER A with about a million, and possibly the RER B and D if one considers them part of the same trunk (they share a tunnel but no platforms); in London, only the Central, Victoria, and Jubilee lines are busier, none by very much; in New York, none of the two-track trunks is as busy. Only the overcrowded lines in Tokyo (and a handful in Osaka, Beijing, and Shanghai) are clearly so busy that barrier-free proof-of-payment fare enforcement is infeasible.
The main reason not to use faregates is that they are maintenance-intensive and interfere with free passenger flow. But they also require passengers to insert fare media, such as a paper ticket or a contactless card, at every station. With contactless cards the system goes well beyond exact numbers of users by station, which can be obtained with good accuracy even on barrier-free systems like Transilien using occasional counts, and can track individual users’ movements. This is especially bad on systems that do not have flat fares (because then passengers tag on and off) and on systems that involve transferring with buses or regional trains and not just the subway (because then passengers have to tag on and off at the transfer points too).
Best industry practice here is then barrier-free systems. To discourage fare evasion, the agency should set up regular inspections (on moving vehicles, with unarmed civilian inspectors), but at the same time incentivize season passes. Season passes are also good for individual privacy, since all the system registers is that the passenger loaded up a monthly pass at a certain point, but beyond that can’t track where the passenger goes. All cities that have faregates except for the largest few should get rid of them and institute POP, no matter the politics.
Tickets and ID cards
In theory, the ID card can literally be the ticket. The system can store in a central database that Alon Levy, passport number [redacted], loaded a monthly pass valid for all of Ile-de-France on 2018-08-16, and the inspector can verify it by swiping my machine-readable passport. But in practice, this requires making sure the ticket machine or validator can instantly communicate this to all roving fare inspectors.
An alternative approach is to combine paper tickets with ID cards. The paper ticket would just say “I am Alon Levy, passport number [redacted], and I have a pass valid for all of Ile-de-France until 2018-09-14,” digitally signed with the code of the machine where I validated the ticket. This machine could even be a home printer, via online purchase, or a QR code displayed on a phone. Designing such a system to be cryptographically secure is easy; the real problem is preventing duplication, which is where the ID card comes into play. Without an ID card, it’s still possible to prevent duplication, but only via a cumbersome system requiring the passenger to validate the ticket again on every vehicle (perhaps even every rail car) when getting on or off.
The same system could handle stored value. However, without printing a new ticket every time a passenger validates, which would be cumbersome, it would have to fall back on communication between the validator and the handheld readers used by the inspectors. But fortunately, such communication need not be instant. Since passengers prepay with stored value, the ticket itself, saying “I am Alon Levy, passport number [redacted], and I loaded 10 trips,” is already valid, and the only communication required is when passengers run out of money; moreover, single-use tickets have a validity period of 1-2 hours, so any validator-to-inspector communication lag time of less than the validity period will be enough to ensure not to validate expired tickets. The same system can also be used to have a daily cap as in Oyster, peak surcharges, and even generally-undesirable station-to-station rather than zonal fares.
It’s even possible to design a system without single-use tickets at all. Zurich comes close, in that a 24-hour pass costs twice as much as a single-use ticket (valid for just an hour), so passengers never have any reason to get a single-use ticket. In this system there would not be any stored value, just passes for a day or more, valid in prescribed zones, with printable tickets if regular riders in one zone occasionally travel elsewhere.
The upshot here is that advanced technology is only required for printing and reading QR codes. The machines do not need to be any more complicated than ATMs or Bitcoin ATMs (insert money, receive a Bitcoin slip of paper); I don’t know how much Bitcoin ATMs cost, but regular ATMs are typically $2,000-3,000, and the most expensive are $8,000, unlike the $75,000 ticket machines used at New York SBS stations. The moving parts are software and not hardware, and can use multi-vendor cryptographic protocols. In effect, the difficult part of verifying that there is no duplication or forgery is offloaded to the state ID system.
The issue with ID Cards, in the United States, is that it’s considered a “States Matter”. It’s to the extent, that when the Real ID Act was passed, after 9/11, there was extreme outrage, over even trying to make it a “Federal ID Card”, so they instead set the standards, but the individual states “signed up” and issue the ID Cards/Drivers Licenses. The closest the US gets to a “national ID System”, is the social security system, that everybody generally gets a Social Security Number when they’re born.
Yes, but SSN security is a joke. State IDs are fine but not everyone has them for reasons like “most states assume ID = driver’s license and not everyone can drive,” “some states make it really hard to get a new ID as a voter suppression measure,” and “giving illegal immigrants ID cards is controversial” (and passports work for the roughly half of US illegals who came in legally and overstayed a visa but not necessarily for the other half).
I don’t think a social security card is usually considered to be valid proof of ID. At best, it is ‘secondary’ proof.
In California to get a real id drivers license that you can use at airport, you need to bring passport AND social security card. Which is weird since you need your social security number to get a passport.
Such policy makes you wonder how much security there really is behind that passport.
FWIW, Zürich (aka ZVV) does not really have “single use” tickets. The base ticket, which could be called “single use” gives the right for transportation within the spezified zones for a given time (depending on the number of zones, that would be between 1 and 3 hours). If you have very little to do at the place you go, you can do a round trip with the base ticket.
The next level could be called “return ticket”, and it costs twice the base ticket. This ticket gives the right for transportation within the specified zones for 24 hours. This allows, for example to even do more than one round trip (such as one in the afternoon of day 1, and another one in the morning of day 2). The fare structure is so that if you need more than 8 zones, they no longer bother to write out those zones, but you get a 24 hour ticket for all zones.
Ah, yeah, the whole thing works with absolute high tech, and the very fastest ticket checking system…
This gets us to the main issue with machine-readable only tickets. Checking such tickets can take a lot of time. Even reading a 2D barcode… by the time the inspector has directed the reader at the ticket, a properly designed paper ticket is already checked. And in many cases, in order to read the ticket, it has to be handed over to the inspector.
Another thought (maybe should get into a separate comment). It is really questionable to assign individual tickets to a specific person (using an ID card, for example). There is no need at all to do so. For the operator, it should not matter, because a single use ticket (may go up to a day pass, or even more) are essentially bearer tickets (the one bearing it has the right for transportation). It does get different with longer duration, higher subsidized tickets, such as monthly passes. That’s why I am not really feel that outraged with the Navigo pass, which is really dirt cheap for what it allows the user to do, and because it is so heavily subsidized, some proof of residence looks acceptable to me. Actually, there are some Tarifverbünde (I intentionally use the German term here), which have personalized and non-personalized monthly passes. The personalized pass is maybe 25% cheaper. But such scenarios primarily show the political will to get people to use transit.
I don’t think the Navigo card requires “proof of residence”. It can be purchased by visitors. What you mean is that it requires photo-ID that makes it personal and non-transferrable. I always understood it was to stop two or more people sharing use of the same card (not at the same time) (which still happens, and you’ll see people getting caught by the transport flics for this infraction).
And yes, it is only fair when it is such a bargain.
Navigo doesn’t seem so onerous to check with handheld devices. They have a large team of inspectors, but they still check passengers one by one, and can go through an RER B car full to about seated capacity in the time it takes an express train to go between Cite-U and Bourg-la-Reine.
The proof of residence issue is complicated. If you have proof of residence and a French phone number you can get the card for free; if you don’t you can still get the same card but there’s a one-time 5 euro surcharge. The real hassle is that you need a passport photo, and they have photo booths at various stations but they intentionally don’t have one at the airport, in order to screw the tourists.
I thought ZVV had the option of personalized tickets, so that if you forgot the ticket at home and got caught by an inspector you wouldn’t have to pay full fine? The issue with ID cards is that they allow that functionality, while also getting around the problem of duplicating anonymous monthly passes.
Yes, the ZVV has both, personal and non-personal monthly/annual passes. The personal pass used to require a “base card” which requires a photo, but which is also used together with the national half fare card.
This base card is now replaced by the “Swiss Pass”, an RFID-equipped card, where it is possible to attach several kind of passes, such as the half-fare card and (if I read it correctly) the personal monthly/annual pass for the ZVV (and FWIW, several ski areas are cooperating, so that you can attack the ski passes, and use this card to get through the gates). This card, too requires a photo.
So, new style ticket checking means that the inspector has to place the device (essentially a mobile phone) onto the card, and the device does the rest. If the inspector is in doubt, he can load the photo from the server and compare it with the bearer. If you forget your card, you will have to pay, but if you can be identified (and have another official ID with you), you can get an invoice payable within 15 days or so. So, you would get the invoice, and the next day you take that with your pass to a ticket office, pay a handling fee (around CHF 5), and can cancel the invoice. Or you pay the service fee (it is NOT a fine), and get it refunded (minus the handling fee).
The non-personalized pass is more expensive, and, of course, if you forget it, you have no ticket, and you pay, because someone else “is using the non-personalized pass”. I am not quite sure whether the non-personalized pass is still paper-based (well, must be, because the Swiss Pass is a personalized base card). But the paper used has several security features, which makes it difficult to forge.
One thought I’ve kicked around a few times for very large cities: what about running a combination of a local VAT and a tourism tax and just making the metro “all you can ride?” Would the savings from eliminating the overhead associated with fare control, which is definitely not trivial, justify going to a more open system? (Pretending, for a moment, that there wouldn’t be a giant uproar over the taxation issue. The challenge of the politics of it is clear – especially when you account for the fact that “users of a city’s mass transit” does not map one-to-one with “people within the city’s tax reach,” especially in places like New York.)
For many cities I think this would be justifiable. If we consider transit to be a public good, it’s better from a distributive standpoint to fund it out of general revenues than regressive user fees. The exception would be in larger cities that have enough usage to strain peak capacity — in that case fares help to ration capacity, like road tolls or congestion fees (hopefully with an eye to funding future capacity improvements as well).
Politically, though, it’s probably a heavy lift, and if the political will isn’t there to fund a free system at a level that would fully replace fare revenues, you’d risk seeing service reduced to the point of uselessness for all but the most desperate.
I remember a presentation by Prof Heinrich Brändli (when he was actually not yet a professor at the ETH-Z, but the chief of the VBZ). And there he was pretty blunt: There are two sources to fund transit (operation): Fare and Taxes. You can have a mix, but you won’t get beyond that.
There are some issues if transit is completely free… if it is free, it has no value. But that can be overcome by very low fares, and/or very attractive passes.
It indeed does demand a lot of political will, but some smaller cities did decide to go with all taxes.
However, there are cities which have agreements with the hotels for free passes for the time of stay. Some long years ago, I had that in Basel, and I think the hotel pays something for these tickets, but they are heavily subsidized. This is, of course a good idea, as (particularly Basel) is not so easy to drive, and every car ride (no matter whether in a private car or in a taxi) to be avoided is worth something for the city).
In Basel we got a free pass at a conference two years ago, not sure if provided by the university or the hotel.
It could have been either. If you got it at the reception, it came from the hotel, if you got it with your conference material, it came from the conference. Basel is very active in getting visitors on transit, indeed. The Canton and City of Basel are very well aware of the importance of transit (well, the more reactionary burbs are not in the same canton, and that can help).
In Japan the smart cards can be used for contactless payment but also for proof of payment identification in the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen now.
They cannot be easily duplicated, and by default they don’t contain any personal information, so the bearer will be able to use any ticket associated with it.
The reason you can add information to it is if you want to get your money back in case it was stolen or lost.
I think this is a good system in order not to rely on state IDs.
Yes, FeliCa is generally a good system with good security (unlike, say, last-generation MIFARE, like what Boston uses). But it’s also vendor-locked to Sony. You can switch out of it – Singapore did when it realigned EZ-Link with CashCard – but it’s nontrivial.
Hong Kong still uses FeliCa.
Yep! So do a bunch of big Asian cities – FeliCa has way higher penetration even in non-Japan Asia than MIFARE.
Japan isn’t a great model given that tourists can’t use their credit cards at machines to buy shinkansen in Tokyo. They are forced to wait in line to see a human.
It’s not as bad for local trains as you can find an occasional machine that accepts credit cards, but transfers are rare since I frequently find myself using trains owned by different companies.
The machines in the New York subway don’t accept foreign credit cards either, as it is often the case in the US (usually you have to enter your ZIP code or some other idiocy).
I know the credit card situation is bad, but hopefully it will be solved before the Olympics.
In the meantime I encourage visitors to have at least some cash.
In Japan they have a mobile app called smartEX where you can use CC to buy Shinkansen passes. You still have to visit the machine to pick up your ticket, so it’s not super-smooth. Ideally you could use the mobile app to also board the train.
No, with smartEX you can also register your IC card (Suica or compatible) and then board using it.
It is compatible with the Suica on Apple Pay and many Japanese Android smartphones.
At least when it comes to the US, I think your offhand “unarmed civilian inspectors” underplays the costs of adding routine friction between a new quasi-police and the marginalized groups mostly likely to take the risk of fare evasion. Just the daily encounters are likely to lead to a variety of humiliations and altercations, and when you add in moving vehicles and high voltage lines maybe injuries and deaths as well. In this sense having enforcement done by faceless fare gate is better for everyone.
Also, considering that the vast majority of us have some sort of location tracking on our phones these days, I’m not sure that being tracked by the local transit authority is high on anyone’s list of concerns…
“Some sort of location tracking on our phones” is mostly a failure of Germany and France, which respectively care about protecting individual privacy and about protecting individual privacy from everyone except the French state. If they wanted to put state money into an Android alternative that was compatible with most existing apps and stripped away the Google tracking, they could, and a lot of people would buy phones equipped with this system.
And for the most part, unarmed inspectors on light rail in the US are not brutal. The big protests against brutality involve armed cops like on BART. Nor are faregates much of a protection – NYPD routinely arrests people who jump the faregates.
Right; my argument is that having a large force of fare inspectors will generate routine BART/NYPD-style incidents. Institutional and union dynamics being what they are, I think even if they start out unarmed the occasional violent incident will drive them into being more and more police-like. I’m not that familiar with light rail, but I assume these are mostly commuter systems with an overwhelmingly middle class ridership.
Also, beyond the brutality aspect, there’s just the small daily indignities of inpsectors being impatient with the young black man while excusing the white woman who had to catch the train so she didn’t validate her ticket, etc. Think of the guards at Israeli mall entrances – there’s very little violence happening, but it’s a constant reminder for Arabs (and non-Ashkenazi Jews) that they are second class citizens.
It’s easy for Google to kill Android clones or alternatives by denying access to Maps, and even with OpenStreetMap I don’t think replacing it is a trivial problem.
In any case the French state cannot finance platforms that will be widely used for 2 reasons : they can’t make the right technical decisions, and they focus too much on their political goals (like the Paris mayor that can’t even do the Velib right anymore).
And why would one want to rip out all that superior technology for an objectively inferior experience? The false dichotomy between “open” and “closed” farecard systems makes agencies do stupid things at higher costs.
atadistance (dot) net/2018/05/25/yes-emv-contactless-sucks-for-transit/
atadistance (dot) net/2018/03/12/the-contactless-payment-turf-wars-transit/
I wrote my comment earlier this morning but I see it didn’t go through. I wanted to thank you for raising this issue in your post, but to point out a couple of issues:
1) I don’t really understand how your proposed solution of using IDs (or cards with photos) addresses the privacy concerns – this depends on the actual design of the specific system, but a system that reads IDs (or passports etc.) could be one that centralises data collection or not (same with current designated card systems, like oyster or Navigo).
2) I disagree with you on the convenience issue – as resident but especially as tourist I prefer to have a designated travel card rather than having to carry around my ID or passport at all times, because losing your passport (again, especially as tourist) is way worse and more of a hassle than losing your designated travel card (also, especially as tourist). Designated travel cards are sometimes a pain to issue (btw on the Navigo point – if you are not a resident you can get the 5 euro card and attach the photo later, you take a risk of getting caught in the meantime, but the card still works; also I recently saw that Israel has an anonymous Rav Kav card that you can maybe even buy from the bus driver? but didn’t look into it) but are still more practical to use, and lose (often – if you have a system that saves the data somewhere that is – you can even get whatever was on it back). Of course, using your phone (like you can now do in London) saves even that hassle, but raises stronger and justified privacy concerns. And yes, I agree with you that Navigo (for example) should be improved to have more flexible (non-calendar dependent) subscriptions, but this is not a privacy-related issue (it could be the same with any system you use, and nothing prevents the RATP from changing it already now).
Also just thought of another example of a very inhospitable travel card – the Dutch OVchipkaart, that can only be topped up with a Dutch bank card, with coins, or in a major train station and with a fee (at least that was the situation until a couple of years ago. It also has the annoying “feature” that in order to use it requires you to have a balance on your card sufficient for the longest trip on the chosen means of transportation (3 Euros for bus or tram and I think 20 for an intercity train), which means you always leave the country with (sometimes not insignificant) balance left on it…
In London a lot of people would prefer that the rail franchises operated the faregates for all the hours the trains are operating. Some only bother during peak hours. If you been on networker in SE London during the evening then eventually you’ll see some dicey stuff or be subject abuse yourself, and surprise surprise non of these people have valid tickets.
Ticket barriers are not perfect but they do help. You can argue about train guards etc, but in my experience most the lines that still have have them huddled up in their little alcove only checking on the doors. Besides on London’s busiest commuter lines, trains are 240m in length and you can end up isolated on some later evening services, once the train has gone starts to get half way in it’s journey from Central London.
One issue with fare inspectors is that even if they try and treat everyone who doesn’t have a valid ticket people who are high status will be much more likely to argue back.
I was on a train in Italy with a ticket but without it being validated and I argued with the guard for 10 minutes. And that obviously means that while he was arguing with me he couldn’t check anyone else’s tickets.
If it’s an honest mistake then I don’t see how arguing back is unreasonable, so it’s not easy to handle well.
One of the aspects of hospitality that I didn’t mention in the post is making it clear to visitors how to validate a ticket. This also covers regular users who might forget – for example, if there’s a tap-on, tap-off system on the buses then there should be validators for tapping off at the bus as well as at the bus stop, as in Singapore in case passengers got off the bus without remembering to tap off.
“Best industry practice here is then barrier-free systems. To discourage fare evasion, the agency should set up regular inspections (on moving vehicles, with unarmed civilian inspectors), but at the same time incentivize season passes. Season passes are also good for individual privacy, since all the system registers is that the passenger loaded up a monthly pass at a certain point, but beyond that can’t track where the passenger goes. All cities that have faregates except for the largest few should get rid of them and institute POP, no matter the politics.”
With all due respect perhaps this works in Germany, but here in the Good ol’ USA it’s a recipe for disaster. Have you ridden BART lately? It’s a moving homeless camp, and I don’t believe that handing out tickets to homeless people would be very effective. BART has already provided data that in their limited POP efforts that most tickets are ignored. Beyond that, there’s a significant contingent of folks who are simply up to no good, and I’m sure that any POP system on BART this is effective would end up being more draconian and intrusive to the riders than simply installing effective fare gates and alarmed emergency exits rather than the wide open “swing gates” that BART has now. Riding buses in the Bay Area, I can tell you that almost any AC Transit route in the East Bay is better than most Muni routes in the City and the key difference is that AC Transit has front-door boarding and you have to pay. I’m impressed by your data driven analyses, but sometimes reality needs to come first.
I rode BART when I visited earlier this year. I don’t remember seeing anything unusually bad there, even at ~10 pm.
SF generally has more homelessness than Oakland, no? New York doesn’t have more homeless people on SBS routes…
On the importance of hospitality, note that this is a major benefit of capped fares over passes that must be purchsaed in advance. Figuring out the appropriate type of pass to buy when you’ve just arrived in an unfamiliar city (and don’t even know how useful the transit system will be to you, much less the ins and outs of the fare structure) is a major pain point for tourists using transit. It often feels like the system is trying to scam you (in some cases it pretty clearly is), and at the margin this surely puts some people off taking transit entirely. Credibly promising that a visitor can just use a stored value card and be charged based on whatever combination of passes and tickets would be cheapest is a major improvement in customer-friendliness, with a relatively small loss of revenue from failing to soak visitors who choose the wrong pass. (Though this also relies on stored-value balance being easily refundable, or else on supporting contactless with international credit cards .)